Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Autumn-07

Fall harvest is my favorite time of the year in Oregon. The air dips chillier, the leaves become brilliant, and produce abounds in a multitude of rich, deep colors and shapes. We get to eat apples that taste like apples (really! they smell like apple candy!), and better yet, pears picked at supple ripeness. The sun still beams through the clouds and yellowing trees, and it seems as if all in nature is plump and plentiful.

The best part of fall for me this year though, was wine harvest and all of the action that it inspires. Not only is wine country abuzz with round-the-clock checking, tasting, picking and monitoring of grapes for ideal plucking times, but the whole wine world ignites with activity. Come September, while the former vintage’s wine is being bottled, industry tastings begin, and harvest events ensue (lavish lunches and wine dinners). I felt so lucky to get a taste of all it this year.

At the restaurant, we pour Ken Wright chardonnay by the glass. I previously thought of this wine as a high-end glass for high-end people, but meeting the man behind the wine quickly turned this opinion into a deep respect for his winemaking. A successful and well-known Northwest winemaker, Ken generously invited a group of us out to spend some time at his winery to observe the harvest process.

Our education began where winemaking does, out in the vineyards, on a warm sunny day. The pinot noir grapes were fattening on the vine in their tight little bunches (fruit so tightly pressed together that you see no stem and can hardly pull the grapes apart). A wise and weathered farmer, Ken described to us the subtleties of geography in the Willamette Valley region, and how the flavor that blooms in the fruit of the grape (and subsequently shows it’s distinction in the wine) is actually a result of the nature of the soil deep beneath the dirt.

The Willamette Valley is the area typically referred to as Oregon’s “wine country” (and thus, which characteristics the world thinks of when they think of Oregon pinot noir). What Ken Wright taught us is that whatever happened when the earth was still forming, changing and moving, affects the flavor of the wine that we drink now, depending on where in the valley the vines are planted. That is what the French refer to as “terroir,” or the taste of the land as evidenced in the wine. I found it so fascinating that these these subtle taste differences are directly connected to variations in soil type.

The differences in the valley soil basically come down to this:
“Willakenzie soil” (in the Carlton and Dundee areas) is a sedimentary soil that covers the valley floor, comprised of prehistoric oceanic sediment (mineral, shellfish, sand, etc.). Wines from grapes in these vineyards tend to have more of a mineral character, with hinds of spice, clove and red fruits (raspberries, cherries, strawberries, etc.). “Jory soil” is the basaltic (volcanic) material that makes up the hills in wine country—the Eola, Chehalem and Dundee Hills. This soil is more rocky, and when you open a bottle of pinot from these regions, you can most likely expect more concentrated fruit, of the dark variety (black cherry, blackberry, etc.). These prehistoric soils lie at least three feet below the top soil, and that is what the farmers have to nourish, this deep layer, through irrigation, fertilizer, and tilling. All of this care and technique to facilitate the development of flavor in wine before the grapes are even picked!

After absorbing all of this knowlege, we were led back to an outdoor pavilion in front of the Tyrus Evans tasting room, and treated to an incredible lunch that Ken’s wife Karen had prepared for all of us and the winery hands. It was so simple, but so delicious—a bed of spinach topped with cannelini beans and grilled shrimp, dressed only with a drizzle of good olive oil and a wedge of lemon. The Wrights are longtime friends with Nancy Silverton of La Brea bakery in Los Angeles (they told us how bread used to be brought up to them in suitcases), and we had their warm rolls from there to sop it all up. I must say, that sunny afternoon in wine country couldn’t have gotten any better, until we stopped at Argyle to taste some sparkling wine on the way out of town...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

9-27-07

Last Thursday I was taken on a date for one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. The place was Le Pigeon (the tiny restaurant that’s been mentioned in Gourmet and other national media a couple of times this year for their head-to-tail cooking--the preparation of parts of animals that only a foodie could love). Upon our arrival, their three communal tables were packed, so we put our names on the waiting list for the bar surrounding the open kitchen. The menu, as we could already see, looked amazing, and we mused about what we would taste that night—foie gras over puff pastry wrapped peaches? Beef cheeks? Summer squash with a foie vinagrette? The kitchen staff wears a shirt that says “in foie gras we trust.” I don’t necessarily agree with or favor foie gras, but for some reason, the richness of the night called for it.

In the meantime, we strolled East Burnside and rode the elevator up to Rocket for a drink. Rocket is incredible for a number of reasons—it has a 300-degree view of the city of Portland, the building it’s in is Platinum LEED certified (the most sustainably built possible), it has a garden on it’s roof (where the cooks grow greens and herbs for their salads and side dishes), and it’s owned by Leather Storrs, one of the best chefs in town. As we enjoyed our well-crafted cocktails, I noticed an acquaintance of mine who happens to be a chef there, and he offered to show us up onto the roof. The three of us climbed the ladder to this rooftop with THE most breathtaking view of Portland—the twinkling lights, the neighborhoods, the clouds were mottled and you could see the stars. If there were daylight you would have been able to see the mountains. Anyway, the chef showed us around all of these interesting hydroponic plantings—kiddie pools with rows of herbs growing in them, eggplant growing out of a cement planter box, pvc pipe holding pots of baby lettuces. After taking it all in, we returned downstairs to finish our drinks then headed out the door and back to Le Pigeon.

We walked in to find our places set and waiting for us on the corner of the bar. Reading the menu, we were excited but almost overwhelmed by all of the choices. When approached by the server my companion asked “do you think the kitchen would be up for doing a tasting menu?” He replied obligingly “yeah, definitely, what do you wanna do, like 5 courses, 6 to share?” We decided on 5 (already so decadent), and my date followed with “and I’ll leave the wines up to you.” To the waiter. To pair! I was FLOORED. What a treat! I’ve never had the pleasure of a tasting menu before (when the kitchen prepares a coursed out menu of their choice—like a best-of-the-best chef’s choice menu). And wines to go with it! So impressive. Shortly, the feast began...

1. Sweetbreads done perfectly (lightly floured and pan-fried) with an uni (sea urchin roe) mayonaise and a relish of cubed pickled watermelon rind. The watermelon rind thing was delicious, and I thought ingenious, since it’s something that you normally discard. (paired with a white Bordeaux—sauvignon blanc and semillon)
2. Eel glazed with an Oregon truffle sauce over a thin piece of toasted brioche on a bed of lentils that had the most amazing sweet-savory taste to it. I don’t even know how to describe this dish but it was so mouthwateringly incredible. Definitely our favorite. (paired with a cab/merlot blend that fortified with brandy which kind of tasted like a port)
3. Beef tongue bacon (no joke) with a pickled egg salad. This may sound unsettling but it was amazing, I’d never had tongue before and may never again, but here it was sliced into squares and barbecued—the dish was like a high cuisine’s version of delicately prepared barbecue (the egg salad had the vinegar and celery of potato salad). [At this point the waiter just gave us a free wine to go with it, a Tokaji Aszu white because he said that it really needed to be paired with beer, but that would’ve been too intense mid-meal).
4. Pork chop cooked for three days—first rubbed, then confited in olive oil and finally cooked in some sort of cryo-bag in a pot of water, for the most tender and subtle flavor. It had this delicious curried fennel and potatoes with it (braised fennel and potatoes with a creamy curry-powder dressing). (Here the wine pairings get fuzzy, all I remember in the richness of the moment was that this one one was red and so was the next).
5. Duck roasted over butternut squash puree and chanterelle mushrooms with a sage/pear reduction/brown butter sauce. Oh my god. This dish was so rich (almost too rich to be the last) but I thought delicious. Seasonal perfection.

Needless to say, we were absolutely stuffed. For dessert, we took a walk.
9-14-07

Whenever I've cooked anything interesting recently, it’s been for a party. Last night was my friend’s 27th birthday, a boisterous barbeque held inside her house on account of the cloudy autumnal weather. This lovely friend however, is gluten-intolerant, and it seems these days that more and more of my friends have food allergies—wheat, dairy, soy, nuts, etc. etc. Many such friends were present last night. These limitations have at times irritated me, especially when it comes to eating out (at least they’re not vegans), but on this particular occasion I was excited by the challenge that they posed. I wanted my friend to have a birthday cake, even if she can’t eat wheat. So following much contemplation on her tastes and preferences, along with a field trip to the neighborhood health food store, I created a tasty recipe—an ice cream pie.
First I thought of an easy route—mud pie, but then I saw spotted of the last berries of the season and came up with something even better. Here it is, but note that the process takes 2 days because of setting the layers in the freezer—

E.B.’s BERRY BIRTHDAY CAKE
Ingredients:
-1 bag of Newman’s Own Wheat-Free Chocolate Cookies
-1/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
-2 T. butter
-1 large (Breyer’s size) carton of organic vanilla ice cream
-1 small carton (Haagen-daz size) of organic raspberry ice cream*
-1 pint of very ripe blackberries*
-2 T. brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1. Set the carton of vanilla on the counter to soften as you prepare the crust.
2. Pour the all of the cookies and the chocolate chips into a food processor and process until finely ground.
3. Dump into a mixing bowl and work the butter through with your hands to distribute—you want it to clump, so add more butter if necessary.
4. Press the crust into a 9x12” cake pan or casserole dish (I used a round pie dish, but the ingredients make enough for a rectangular cake-sized dish), and bake for about 12 minutes, until just crisp/set.
5. Remove from oven and cool on the counter or fridge (meanwhile check the ice cream—if it’s getting too soft, put it in the freezer or fridge—you don’t want it liquid, just spreadable). When the crust is cooled to room temperature, spatula the vanilla ice cream into the crust in one smooth layer. You’ll want to scoop it out in large clumps and press it in so that it doesn’t pull up the crust.
6. Freeze until hard (most likely overnight).
7. Next day: Put blackberries and sugar into the food processor with a splash of water and puree.
8. Pour the puree evenly over the vanilla layer and freeze.
9. After that has frozen, soften the raspberry ice cream and spread over the berry layer and freeze until solid (a few hours because it’s a thinner layer).
10. To serve: slice fresh strawberries and arrange artfully over the top, or top with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

*When I got to thinking about it, so many delicious variations could be made on this recipe—different berry flavors, different fruit, different ice cream—you can really do whatever you want as long as the colors contrast enough to look good when you slice it (this one was brown, cream, purple and pink). I think that an amazing combination would be vanilla and passion fruit with a shortbread crust. Or creamsicle, or chocolate-mint, or lemon-orange-cream, or, or...

Friday, September 14, 2007


Though long overdue, I feel the need to make brief mention of my trip back home to Hawaii in August. Because I was there to see friends and family, I had no specific foodie goals other than to revisit my old breakfast haunts like the Kilauea Bakery, eat some sushi (at the Princeville Clubhouse) and have some ripe tropical fruit (papaya, banana and mango oh my!). Anyway, usually when good friends are present, pickiness takes a back seat and food doesn’t matter so much.

The exception to this rule however, was at the magical wedding that we were all home to be a part of. It was a 300 person luau style celebration, homegrown in every aspect. Many of those involved have known each other for over 20 years—the wedding planner himself was an elementary school classmate of ours. Anyway, I was truly impressed by the spread of food that was laid out for the wedding feast, and all of the love that went into each contribution to the meal. See, it was comprised of elements from different people and different places. The maid of honor’s mother was the primary chef and coordinator. She prepared much of the meal, including her famous fish tacos that were made with Ahi caught fresh by none other than the groom’s father. They had (as I think it is one of the bride’s favorite foods) kalua pork, imu-ed (cooked underground, Hawaiian style) in the backyard of one of their friends. To accompany that, there was poi, no doubt made by people they know. They also had ono venison pipikaula (smoked meat), caught by someone’s uncle on a hunting trip to Moloka’i. And finally, the bride’s mainland side (from Washington state) brought loads of richly smoked salmon, which was made into a sort of lomi-lomi spread. It was perfect, so delicious, and so lovingly comprised. Even the beautiful, tiered wedding cake (though it disastrously melted in the August heat), was made by a friend. I’m sure it tasted great though. And last but not least, we toasted all night courtesy of a canoe stocked with ice and the happy couple’s favorite beers--Heinneken, Heinneken Light, Steinlager or Corona (served with a commemorative “coozy” to keep it all cool). Local style...gotta love it!

Friday, August 31, 2007


For all of you who live in Hawaii, check out the new issue of Gourmet Magazine (Sept. 2007). The theme of the issue is Latin-American cuisine, which happens to encompass so many tropical foods and fruits that we have in Hawaii! There are recipes with papaya, cabocha squash (they call it by a Spanish name), soursop/guayabano and other things that we have there. It made me excited, because you usually look through those magazines and the produce is always peak-of-season on the mainland, but hard-to-find or very expensive in Hawaii. So, there you go. And, once again, Portland gets a plug, specifically for the taco wagons we have in town, two out of four of which are in my neighborhood. But, you know what? The one time I tried them, the cilantro was all sandy or something and there was an unnervingly grainy crunch in the greens that put me off. Maybe next time I'll try the stand that's next to the new juice bar trailer...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sometime in July-07

I came to Victory Wine and Food (Division St. at 36th) with the intention of having a glass of wine and work on writing about another neighborhood restaurant—I didn’t expect to eat something there worthy of a blog itself. Their menu consists of classy bar food—small plates of meats and cheeses (impressive house-made pate, charcuterie, smoked fish, and meatballs). The chef, who apparently worked at Park Kitchen before this, stands behind the bar and casually prepares all this fabulous stuff effortlessly, dressed in a plaid shirt and vintage corduroy pants. I was leaning towards having some cheese (a changing cheeseboard), but opted to try the mussels, cooked in a saffron butter broth with homemade chorizo and thin slices of celery draped over them. They were maybe the best mussels I’ve ever had. And only $8! I had to restrain from mopping up the sauce with an ENTIRE baguette! I had a glass of Sancerre (Chateau Recogne) and a bit of Mas Amiel Port (strong!) and I was then good-to-go. I need to get back there. (Huge room too—great for a party! My birthday next year perhaps.) They’re closed on Sundays, but the chef told me that someone else comes in and does a supper club there every once in a while. I’m on the email list for that, can’t wait until it happens...).

The neighborhood spot that I was originally going to write about is in the wonderful little Clinton Neighborhood. A friend from work took be there, coincidentally, around the time of the Rose festival. The place is named “Bara,” or “rose” in Japanese. It’s housed in the first floor of a big victorian, off of 20th street. We ate on their lovely little patio, and I was impressed with everything. I said a while ago that the only thing my neighborhood really needed was a great little sushi restaurant, and this is it. Growing up on Kauai I’m incredibly picky about sushi. Hey, my best friend’s dad was a fisherman-- sashimi in their house meant cutting the ahi from the bone onto the plate in the kitchen sink, if not right on the boat. (Did you know that the origin of poke was actually finding a way to prepare the small bits of fish scraped from right against the bone?).

So I don’t eat farmed salmon, in a sushi roll or anywhere. That stuff is gross. And I can spot dyed ahi all over this town. I’ve eaten sushi at the many places that people rave about, and Bara is the first place that I’ve actually been satisfied at in Portland. The chef (who used to work at Masu) makes creative, California-style rolls (avocado, etc.), in an appropriate mouth-size with really fresh fish. We had sockeye salmon nigiri, a Las Vegas Roll, hamachi, and these really great green-lipped mussels chopped w/a spicy mayo and cooked in their shells as an appetizer. Yummy food, cute restaurant, great service. I like it. A lot. And the waitress told us there’s even a private tatami room in back for parties. Just like Kintaros...
Arizona 7-5-07

I just weeded through paragraphs of rambling about my amazing trip to Arizona, deciding to share only the highlights that hit my tastebuds:

1. Cowboy Ciao—restaurant in Scottsdale (hidden among the shopping complexes) with an unfortunate name but incredible food. Innovative Southwestern. Good wine too—my friends and I each ordered a flight (served in crystal). I got the Central (CA) Coast Chardonnay one. Good sips. We shared a “Stetson Chopped Salad,” served in a rainbow on the plate and mixed by the server (pink smoked salmon, yellow dried corn, green spinach, white cheese, dark red currants and brown toasted pumpkin seeds). Great salad. Unusual. Then we ordered the “Exotic Mushroom Panfry,” 7 types of wildish fungi sauteed in an ancho chili cream sauce (dark and rich and smoky!). Dessert was an (okay) bread pudding garnished with house made orange ice cream (really good with crystallized bits of orange), and drizzled with a brown sugar-butter sauce. Mmm...
2. Fresh salsa and avocado on everything! The waiter tried not to laugh when I asked if they had salsa at the Coffee Pot diner where we ate breakfast at in Sedona. That place was “home of 101 omelets.” No joke—they were all listed.
3. Watermelon Mojitos POOLSIDE at the Camelback resort in Scottsdale. Frozen watermelon blended with mint on a sunny day, what more could you ask for? A pool? Rum? You got it...paradise for a moment.
4. New Frontier Grocery Store in Sedona: Wonderful, beautiful new healthfood store. Just great food and great looking. Amazing deli/juicebar and prepared food section. They made lavender lemonade there! Salsa of course, salads, and these great mixed berry oat bars and other vegan pastries. A reggae band was playing out front the last day we were there.
5. “Baja Shrimp Cocktail”—basically a really good gazpacho with cooked shrimp and avocado cubes floating in it, served with lime and chips. This dish (also served poolside at Camelback) inspired my own modification that I made for a BBQ at my friend’s house this summer. They called it “Lila Love”:
-1 lb. Oregon bay shrimp (or other peeled, cooked shrimp, chopped into 1/2 in. pieces)
-4 small avocados, cubed
-1 T smooth salsa (can be jarred, whatever)
-1 clove garlic, diced
-2 limes, juiced
-chopped cilantro (optional—I didn’t have it, but it probably would make this EVEN BETTER!)
-Mix all ingredients in a bowl (lightly, not to blend the avo) & season w/salt & pepper. Serve w/chips.

Monday, June 11, 2007

I stood outside Park Kitchen early one Friday evening, gazing at the eclectic monthly offerings (chickpea fries, grilled shrimp salad, leek tart, terrine du jour). Park Kitchen has an excellent reputation in Portland (and, I believe farther than that), as being a restaurant of seasonal specialties, and as a real chef’s restaurant. It’s another head-to-tail place, where you’ll see something like tripe (or sweetbreads, or tongue) on the menu just next to something like pasta. I think at one point they were making their own hot dogs.
Anyway, I liked the look of things on that menu, and was about to walk in when a pretty woman from my yoga class (where I’d just come from) and her companion parked their Land Rover out front and came to look at the menu as well.

“All I could think about during that yoga class was having a glass of wine!” I turned and said to her as the bar bustled behind the glass in front of us.

“I’m glad I had one before class!” She replied with a smile, “it made those poses a little easier to hold.”

It was kind of funny, all things considered, that we both came from the Pearl’s temple of yoga (and vegan restaurant attached, no less), dressed in workout clothes to this meaty little restaurant. It’s all about balance, I guess.

I walked in and tried to hide my outfit and backpack by sitting at the far end of the bar (it’s so casual here, that in all honesty, no one really noticed what I was wearing), and was pleased to find that an acquaintance of mine was bartending. This sprightly friend let me taste a few wines, and with the help of another waiter’s (unsolicited, but appreciated) two cents, I settled on a white Rioja—round, smooth, full of fruit, with a clear lemony color. The perfect spring sip.

I wasn’t starving (which was lucky, because this is a “small plates” place, where you have to order a few to get full, and even bread is one of those, so you have to pay for that too), so I decided to go for it. See, sometimes when I go out, I seek out fresh, interesting vegetable dishes and salads, OR, I just want to get straight to the point with meat and dessert. This was one of those times. [One of my most memorable meals was at Roy’s Kihei, with a few crew guys from the music tour I was working on. I walked in late, and ordered filet mignon and a chocolate souffle. One of the best meals ever. ‘Nuff said.]

I ordered the tripe. I’ve never had tripe, but I’m slowly making my way through the bits and pieces of the edible animal (sweetbreads—check), and decided it was time. Serious foodies love this stuff, so here I go. Prior to this, I’ve only seen tripe in menudo at the post-ceremonial gatherings of my Mexican extended family, and have always been deterred by it’s pale, honeycomb appearance. But this was Park Kitchen, I put my trust in the chef, and I was fortunately pleased.

This dish was comprised of veal tripe (smaller, delicate and lacy), shelled spring peas, julienne carrots, morel mushrooms, and hand-rolled pici pasta, all in a shallow bowl of rich earthy brown sauce (mmm...stock and mushrooms). The presentation was delicate yet homey (the morels and tripe had a similar texture and look). It tasted like the inside of a pot pie. Well, a gourmet Park Kitchen fantasy pot pie. The elements were there. It was delicious.
I followed this perfect portion with a warm ginger-rhubarb galette (fruit filled pastry, like a personal pie), topped with candied ginger and cardamom whipped cream (LOVE anything sweet with cardamom, especially coffee cake). I sipped a tiny glass of Quinto do Infantado 10 year tawny port to finish it off. I definitely selected well, and was fully satisfied. The woman that I befriended on the barstool next to me who ordered lightly—the leek tart and some sort of grapefruit poundcake--was clearly jealous.
I find myself deeply frustrated and at last overloaded with all of the FOOD around me. I serve it all day. Working in a restaurant (a good one), I graze on it all day too. After work, I often want to go out to a restaurant for something to eat. The only magazine I subscribe to is Gourmet, so that’s what I have around my apartment to read. The books I’m reading right now happen to be “Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet,” and Gael Greene’s (famous NY restaurant critic) memoir, “Insatiable.” On my days off, I want to cook and go to the farmer’s market, and often find myself at New Seasons grocery store at least twice a week. It’s too much. I’m bored already.

When I worked in retail (fashion), I couldn’t get enough time for the food stuff. What I thought I wanted to be doing was working in a restaurant (well, owning one really). And here I am. I care more about the buzz on what’s opening, what the innovative chefs are doing, how Greg Higgins is flying from Portland to New York city to make an appearance at the “Chef’s Gone Wild” event benefiting City Meals on Wheels (which, coincidentally Gael Greene helped to start) this summer. One of my managers came in to work this afternoon proclaiming “I will bet...I’d put money on Rocket being named the Oregonian’s Restaurant of the Year.” He was boasting it like some self-proclaimed prophet. I just stood there (stewing). Duh. Hello! When I HEARD about the concept for Rocket months (actually about a year) ago, I knew it would be a big deal. The chef, his connections with the food world (coming from Noble Rot, which I read about in Gourmet before even thinking about moving to Portland), and the innovative concept (molecular gastronomy, blah blah blah). When I heard that the building built to house it (the “Rocket Building”) was platinum LEED certified (one of a few in the nation), and read that Leather Storrs (the chef) planned to put a garden and chicken coop on the roof, I knew that the place would be like no other. And finally, when I applied for a job there (knowing, based on all of the above factors, that it would be buzzworthy) and took in the view for myself (more than 180 degrees—best view in Portland, of both the downtown skyline AND Mt. Hood on a clear day), I knew that it would be this summer’s hot spot. Or, at the very least, the most talked about restaurant in town. Which, it is. A friend who works there just told me that the New York Times is flying in this weekend to review it. What did I tell ya?

Monday, May 21, 2007

5-19-07
I flipped through the latest issue of Gourmet magazine this evening, stopping to glance over a full-page recipe for “Berry Bliss Cake,” which was essentially an ad for Kraft products. Pictured was a “lifestyle expert” preparing this simple dish from instant or frozen ingredients such as Cool Whip, Jello pudding and pound cake. I was insantly filled with conflicting feelings: attracted to the picture-perfect cake, and it’s simplicity but found my nose cringing with my newfound disdain for all foods artificial. Yuck—frozen food, instant pudding, corn syrup...all of a sudden, my thoughts turned to memories of being a kid, making jello...I learned to cook with that kind of stuff. My earliest memories of “cooking” on my own were of putting bologna and “lil’ smokies” sausages in the toaster oven. Hey, that stuff was good!

What are we (the newly enlightened to whole and natural foods) to do when we have kids? I eat quite healthy now, and have nothing instant or artificial in my pantry (except maybe polenta, and ramen). But what happens when my kids have a birthday party, or need treats for a school function? Will it all be from scratch? No Duncan Hines cupcakes? It’s odd, because thinking of this, it becomes apparent that kids or no, I haven’t had any family-style functions in my single life in the past year. No reason to bake treats for a group, no sweet teeth to please (except my own, of course...). I wonder if when the healthy have kids, most prior good habits fall to the wayside in the way of convenience. I mean, my mom was a macrobiotic at one point, next thing she knew, us kids were getting fast food for dinner every Thursday on “town day.” Just like the way a parent finds themselves listening to their 9 year old’s cds in the car... saccharine all around...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

5-1-07

As I loosened my tie (seriously) and removed my coffee-stained “bistro” apron late Sunday afternoon at work, I contemplated my attendance at a dinner party that I’d been invited to that evening. It was to be hosted by a friend of mine from the restaurant, who, motivated by any excuse to make “shabu-shabu” (dressed in a full-length cotton kimono, no less) declared the evening’s theme “Asian.” I figured that the term would be applied loosely since, this being Southeast Portland, there would most likely be no actual Asians present.

I am normally more than enthusiastic about any sort of dinner party, but I worked all weekend, and felt like I didn’t have enough to bring. However, because I heard that one of the city’s buzzworthy young chefs might be in attendance, I didn’t want to miss out. I did think ahead on this, and in the event that I might go, I had made some Chi Chi Dango (coconut mochi) on Friday night just in case.

Mochi treats, particularly Chi Chi Dango, like many Japanese confections, are often made with artificial food coloring, to give sweets their pink color, and pickles that fluorescent yellow. Standing in the baking aisle at the grocery store, however, I couldn’t muster the purchase of liquid chemicals to add to my cooking. So, I concocted a natural alternative. The mochi recipe was to be layered, so one part, at least, could remain naturally white. For the other, I boiled a beet in a little water (which I used later for beetroot salad), and used that beautiful fucshia juice in place of the water in half of the batter. It made the mochi a fabulous dark red, but I admit, when soft against the off-white layer, it bore an unsettling resemblance to body fat. Or steak. One person at the party (while enjoying it) compared it to “raw fish.” Ahem. Anyway...it was definitely well received, and quite tasty. Everybody loves mochi.

On to the next course: appetizers. I was in a time crunch, but my pantry did hold a start—rice wrappers for spring rolls. Desperately flipping pages of all of my cookbooks and magazines for a recipe, I found none (nor directions for turning the rigid wrappers soft), but drew on my own taste and memory to develop a dish. I zoomed up the street on my vintage bike to the grocery store, on a mission for fresh Oregon bay shrimp (in season as of 2 weeks ago), plump, flavorful, tiny, and best of all—cooked. I had some cilantro, so I thought “mint,” and intended to put something else in (carrots? cucumber?) but lost track of any other ingredients as I frantically searched for bean sprouts. That’s what I wanted to use for the bulk of the salad rolls, but after scanning the entire produce section (twice) in vain, I finally asked someone, and a clerk told me that “there was a fire.” At the bean sprout factory? Odd, but I had no time to ponder that one. Onward, I wondered, “what is filling, fresh, and flavorless?” ICEBERG LETTUCE!

It took me a minute, standing there before the mound of lettuce, to accept the fact that I was actually about to buy and prepare conventional iceberg lettuce (never thought I’d see the day), the archenemy of the organic movement. But, it’d do the job, so that’s what I did. And, my friends, those babies were dee-lish. Everyone was impressed. So here’s the recipe:

Lila’s Springtime Rolls
3/4 lb cooked Oregon bay shrimp
1/4 c chopped cilantro
1/8 c chopped spearmint
1/2 lime’s worth of juice
1 t sambal chili sauce
head of iceberg lettuce
grated carrot (optional)
thinly sliced cucumber (optional)
rice spring roll wrappers
salt

Mix the shrimp, lime juice, herbs and sambal in a bowl with salt to taste. Thinly julienne the lettuce. Soak the rice wrappers, about 4 at a time in a pie dish or skillet filled with warm water for about 3 minutes. Here’s where things got experimental: without proper directions, I took the wrappers out one at a time and dried them on clean dishtowels laid all over my kitchen to blot off the moisture. It worked fine. Take a little of the shrimp mixture, place it in a line about 3” long a bit off center (closer to you rolling it), top with a mound of lettuce, and fold/roll away from you once, tuck the sides over, and finish rolling. Repeat until mixture is used up. Serve the rolls with warm, homemade peanut sauce (recipe I used is in the Joy of Cooking). Enjoy!

P.S. Drinking primarily riesling and/or plum wine all night is always a bad idea.

Friday, March 16, 2007


3-11-07

At the end of the long thick plank of a wooden bar, I sat in the shadows by myself. A glass of ’03 Pineraie Cahors on my left, White Haven New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on my right. I took alternate sips of each as I savored every bite of my tasty little dinner.

I stopped into Noble Rot last tonight because my friend was working. Late in the afternoon, I took one of the last open seats at the bar, all the way down, where the food comes from the kitchen. In front of me stood two huge jars: one full of marcona almonds, the other of house-marinated olives. It wasn’t even six o’clock yet, but the room was sufficiently low-lit to urge on the start of an evening of solid wine drinking.

“The Rot” divides their wines by the glass into flights based on themes or regions, which is always entertaining. For my first glass I debated between that Cahors, from a flight of such, and a Barbera. As mentioned, I decided on the former, which was slightly stronger and more to the point than the slippery, cool Barbera. A little bit more, shall we say, “saturday night.” Glass in hand, I studied the specials board up on the wall to my left, and my gaze immediately got caught on the first item: Rabbit Cassoulet (for only $13). Slightly weary of rich food (as French cuisine is prepared in the restaurant in which I work), I ordered it anyway. The last time I sat down to a dinner of laupin was when I was actually in Paris, over a year ago.

I asked for a little wedge of some type of triple-cream cheese that looked a like camembert, and I spread it all over little rounds of soft artisan bread. The restaurant was busy, and I enjoyed sitting there, planted in my little spot in the corner, legs a bit road-weary from exploring the neighborhood all afternoon. I browsed through the first few pages of the Wine Spectator, perfectly content listening to music and the orders being called to the kitchen.

That cassoulet was divine. It turned out to be quite delicate for a traditional dish like that. The rabbit was first prepared confit-style, imbuing a fantastic smoky flavor in the meat. It was shredded, slightly crispy, and set amongst beans and vegetables (cubes of turnip, celeriac, and arugula) in what was more like a broth than a roux based sauce. I ate it slowly and deliberately, stretching out the dish’s deliciousness with my little pieces of bread. And wine.

When I finished, definitely satisfied, the chef, an acquaintance, came over and asked me about my meal, followed by the question, “is there anything you DON’T eat?” I paused for a second, and answered, “not really, except maybe sweatbreads, tripe...offal.” “All meat?” “Yep.” He approved, and walked away, returning about ten minutes later with a gift of short-rib ravioli with two sauces—creamy blue cheese and a bordelaise. Topped with crispy shallots. I felt lucky. But overly stuffed. Like a goose on a fois gras farm. My friend brought me a glass of dessert wine (a Tokaji, I believe). I sipped the golden liquid from a tiny antique glass. When it was finally all gone, and I felt at the height of my most cosmopolitan, most Parisian, I said my goodbyes and stepped out into the night. Then I walked to catch the bus.

Monday, March 12, 2007

3-2-07
Way up on Northwest 23rd and Vaughn Street, far past all of the shops and twinkling lights of Nob Hill, is a little restaurant called Filberts. Yes, like the hazelnut. It is a little nut: a little nugget of delicious, tender goodness sheltered from a tough outer shell of the surrounding industrial zone, freeway on-ramps, and budget hotels. Inside the door of the cottage is a cozy room with warm colored walls, and an equally warm staff that invites you in as if they’d been expecting you at a dinner in their home. It’s quiet, tiny, and intimate, and the food is equally comforting.

Subtle and unpretentious, I felt like what we had to eat there was just the best of what someone (well, a highly skilled, professionally trained someone) might put in front of you if you were having dinner with them at home. Everything was just really good—nothing too showy, nothing too salty (you know how, you go out, and something really pops in your mouth, the flavor is huge, and you go home, unable to get enough water down your throat, realizing, that in fact it was just REALLY salty? I feel like this happens a lot with French food and sauces).

We started with mussels (undoubtedly from waters somewhere very close) in the classic white wine butter broth—so plump, so fresh...dare I use the word...succulent. They really were. We began to wash down our feast with Brooks Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, decidedly the only choice to accompany the diversity of flavors that we intended to devour (sea, land, garden, dessert tray).

I could not resist the Carlton pork chop, which, upon ordering, I was given a short exposition on how the chef prefers to cook them medium rare, being that they come from
a town only a short drive away, and that there’s yet to be any concrete evidence that consuming raw pork will cause illness. I agreed to the preparation, because, hey, if that’s how the chef says it’s to be done, that’s how I want to eat it (although when it did arrive, it appeared fully cooked to me). It came out beautiful, thick cut, over atop a bed of tiny parsnips and ham hock, delicately cubed into the exact same size, with strips of lovely fennel. All of that was over this delectable caramelized cake that they called a “carrot rosti,” basically shredded carrot with shallots and seasonings, formed into a little patty and browned on the outside. The combination of the sweet root vegetables with the savory salt-pork flavor was perfect. Perfect. I do believe that I had the best thing on the menu, though my friend’s trout was delicious as well—pan fried light and crispy. Despite the fact that it was served with black-eyed peas, ham, and shiitake mushrooms (an interesting take on the southern combo), I was impressed at how the fish maintained it’s crispy crust throughout the meal.

We finished with the best creme-brulee I’ve ever had (I have to admit, I haven’t tried TOO many, because normally I don’t care for sweets of the custard persuasion). It was more creamy than custardy, smooth and silky. There was a tiny little portion stuck to the side of the ramekin when our smiling server came by to clear our plate, and she sweetly encouraged us to eat this last bit--what she called “the angel’s share” (or something equally whimsical). I love how the staff appreciates the food so much, that, like a good friend, they can't help but tell you to go ahead and finish that last spoonful.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I have to give snaps where snaps are due--to the Heathman Restaurant for turning out a dish that was by far, one of the best meals I've had in months. What was this mouthwateringly delicious, perfectly cooked and delicately textured dish, you ask? Black miso cod--the fish at the height of freshness, skin on top to further seal in the juicy flavor, large, silky flakes that were as smooth as butter on the tongue, in a miso-white wine broth. In this broth were halved sections of whole baby bok choy, steamed and soaking in the juice (with a slight firm crunch remaining in their cooked stalks). Four perfectly plump, shelled mussels sat surrounding the cod, straight from Willapa bay to the plate, via a little dip in a hint of white wine (the taste was just faintly present). I love black cod when it's cooked this way, I know they do it at Nobu, and a few other fine restaurants, and it is just SO GOOD. With a dessert of the Heathman's Chocolate Gourmandise (warm flourless chocolate cake, smothered in rich chocolate sauce), that's a meal that takes you to heaven and back. Seriously, I was by myself eating that cod, and I stopped between bites, to sigh and say "wow," looking at the plate in disbelief, in awe that something could be SO GOOD. Don't know how else to describe it. But that chocolate dessert--yesterday a man at the restaurant called it "better than excellent." You can't get more complimentary than that.

Friday, February 16, 2007

2-15-07

I trudged home through the rain today, carrying groceries in a bag and on my back. The weather was coming from every-which-way, and I got tired of getting wet inside the bus-stop. So I just started walking. No umbrella, I just let the drops soak my jacket and mat my unbrushed hair. At least I only live 8 blocks from the grocery store.

Anyway, I have a little sinus/cold thing, so I wanted to buy ingredients for a soothing soup. And for cornbread. I can’t seem to get cornbread right, ever, despite the fact that I love it—this time it was too metallic and dry. Maybe it needed sugar? Or butter? The soup I made was great however—perfectly brothy, hearty, and easy.

The origin for this recipe sprang from the necessity to use up a bunch of wilting arugula in my refrigerator. I bought it for salad, and was hesitant to cook it through, which I’d never really tried before, but I figured, “hey, it’s green, it’ll be good.” It turns out that when matched with a more powerful spice (like spicy sausage), the peppery-ness of the arugula just disappears and it becomes mild and soft like spinach.

Having the arugula, I naturally thought “Italian,” (I had some parmigiano too, which I ended up not needing due to how flavorful the soup turned out). I looked up some soup recipes, and found one for the Portuguese “Caldo Verde,” which is mostly just Portuguese sausage, broth and kale, or another dark leafy green. So, with that simple recipe in mind, here’s what I came up with:

Rained-out Spicy Soup

1. In a pot, brown 1/2 lb loose (or uncased) spicy italian sausage (I used pork, but you could use chicken, just put some olive oil in the pan first, just make sure it’s the spicy one). The sausage I get from my grocer has a lot of garlic in it, but if yours has none, add 1 large clove of minced garlic with your sausage.
2. When browned, remove sausage into a bowl (spoon out, leaving the grease in the pot), and set aside.
3. Reheat grease in pot, add half of a medium-sized onion, diced, and brown over medium heat. When browned, turn down and cook until almost clear.
4. Add 4 cups of chicken broth (one of those organic boxes), and raise heat
5. Return sausage to pot, along with 1 can of (rinsed and drained) Great Northern, Canellini, or other white bean, sea salt and pepper to taste (I threw in a whole teaspoon of alae`a salt).
6. Bring briefly to bubbling, then reduce to a simmer for about 10 more minutes.
7. Add chopped arugula (1/2 to a whole bunch, stems and all—1 inch pieces), and when that wilts, give it a stir, and your soup will be ready. Soothing, savory, spicy, and nutritious!
Serve topped with a little parmigiano if you like, and bread on the side (probably focaccia, or ciabatta, or cornbread if you get the craving like mine!)

*This recipe serves two for dinner with some leftovers.

Monday, February 12, 2007

2-10-07
Semi-sunny Saturday morning: I woke up with explorative energy, and decided to catch the bus to one of my favorite little Portland neighborhoods—Mississippi Street. I began with a perfect latte from Albina Press (you know, the kind they always used to make at all the decent coffee shops in Seattle), with the fern pattern on top. I want to learn how to make those, to master that technique of delicately swirling the espresso foam and the milk. (The guy who made this one apparently won second at the U.S. barista championships.) I stayed at Albina Press for a little while, people watching and then scanning the scraps of New York Times left behind by charitable subscribers.

After that, I strolled down Mississippi as it woke up, passing couples with dogs, running kids, moms pushing strollers, and hipsters freshly rolled out of bed. Moxie Rx was open, and I could not resist the temptations sitting in this kitsch little food trailer’s window: homemade muffins, pastries, rolls with brie and apple. It was all laid on vintage plates with 50s linen and doilies—picture perfect and delectable. The woman who runs the place also has a couple of made-to-order specials listed on cute little plaques, and drinks like berry smoothies and steamers (spiced apple cider, orange-chili-Mexican cocoa, spiced maple milk).

Although I had already resolved not to eat a heavy brunch this weekend, I could not resist her Cheddar Biscuit—a handmade buttermilk biscuit baked with a cheddar cheese top, sandwiching applewood smoked bacon (or smoked salmon), fluffy herbed and scrambled eggs, folded over a little slice of provolone. It was a bundle of heaven, wrapped perfectly in a piece of waxed paper. All buttery and savory, wrapped up like that, the breakfast was reminiscent of a McDonalds breakfast biscuit. Truly, I mean this only in the most complementary of ways, because, growing up, the “bacon egg and cheese biscuit” was one of my most favorite things. I eagerly anticipated the days (about once a week or so) when we woke up early enough for my Mom to take us through the “drive-thru.” And, with my whip-thin frame and insatiable adolescent appetite, I always ordered two breakfast sandwiches (an Egg McMuffin to accompany the biscuit). I played a lot of soccer then.
2-6-07
There’s nothing like an orange in the dead of winter. A bright, oily, firm one; full of color and heavy with juice. Especially right at this moment, when everything is dry, dry, dry, and cold. When the trees are brittle and skeletal, and there’s a thin layer of gray dust on the sidewalks. When the sky looks that way too, and my own skin feels as if it’s cracking like shale.

This is the time that I appreciate an orange like no other. Never before in my life have I particularly cared for oranges, I suppose because I previously just took them for granted, like apples or milk. But here in the Northwest, I’ve begun to take notice of them—on menus, in the market, and have slowly been filling my fridge with them (I’ve been fortunate, because of my renewed employment with an organic produce company, to obtain a variety of freebies).

While home on Kauai in January, one of the things that I most looked forward to and enjoyed, were the tangelos off of the tree in my Mom’s front yard. My favorite fruit, the tangelo. Nothing is juicier. And with very little acid, it produces the most mouthwatering juice. I swear that they taste better the closer to the time that you pick them too, so I’d walk out and pick them in my pajamas in the cool air of the morning before I juiced them for breakfast. Never have I felt bitterness towards the strict agricultural laws that keep plant species out of, and in, the state of Hawaii, until I left Kauai without any fresh fruit in my bag. How I would have enjoyed those tangelos up here in Portland...

The first citrus to come into season on the mainland (I assume that all of this fruit is coming from California) were the Meyer lemons (used on menus in a sauce, or a dessert like cheesecake), then Satsuma oranges on salads. These days, I’ve seen and tasted blood oranges, minneola tangerines, and just plain old navel oranges, which, when organic, are positively bursting with flavor right now. In the winter, their juice is so life giving—just the perfume that explodes while peeling them awakens dulled, doughy senses.

Because of their vibrancy, I think, citrus is abuzz on many tongues around here—I’ve heard of friends returning from road trips to California with gifts of treasured fruit from southern farms. And someone recently mentioned a new fruit in the market here, called the “citrus cocktail”—some hybrid that takes the most desirable elements from lemons, oranges and grapefruit (thanks to a hard working Willy Wonka of the plant world out there).

The other evening, no doubt after eating some snack accompanied by orange slices (slices of orange are so perfect with or after anything heavy or fatty—meat, cheese, etc. I’ve heard of them being brought out unadorned as the closing course to a hefty Italian meal), I picked up my copy of “A Moveable Feast,” and found that even Hemmingway deemed citrus fruit worthy of writing about. He wrote of his experience living in Paris in the wintertime, “The fireplace drew well in the room and it was warm and pleasant to work. I brought mandarines and roasted chesnuts to the room in paper packets and peeled and ate the small tangerine-like oranges and threw their skins and spat their seeds into the fire when I ate them and roasted chesnuts when I was hungry...sometimes when I was starting a new story and could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the little sputter of blue that they made.”

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I thought that I should note that the very DAY after writing that last blog, I ate a cheeseburger. I had a craving for one too—must have been the repeated description. The burger I had, while decent, was probably the best meal of the 5 slopped in front of my friends and I at the Roxy diner on Southwest Stark Street late that night. Well, not THAT late, since the Roxy is one of, I think, only two 24-hour eateries in this “city.” And a bad one. The group I led there were my friends and their two kids, who were probably too young to be in the company of the Roxy’s clientele. Basically, it’s a place where street rats go to sit for a couple of hours once they’ve scraped enough together for a bottomless cup of coffee. Smelling more like a soup kitchen than a diner, the scene would have fit in somewhere in the movie Beetlejuice. At least the place is wise enough to be too dark to see the food (unfortunately not the cook), and who knows what else. It took about 45 minutes to get our food, with about 3 other tables in the place, and when it came, the waitress spilled half of the gravy off of one of the plates onto my friend’s jacket. Next time I'm hungry late, I best just go to Safeway. Well, enough of that.

I had a bistro burger at work today. It was exceptionally juicy. I have to admit, a hamburger is pretty tasty when the bun soaks that in. But I think I’ll keep my burger quota to one every 3 months, since they seem to fill me up for that long.